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By DAMON LAWRENCE
The Princess Theater is set to receive a $1.7 million facelift courtesy of TVA.
Gary Baker could take ownership of the building for far less than that once the renovations are complete.
His 99-year lease with the city of Harriman gives him the option to buy the Princess. The most he would have to pay — $100,000.
Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said he’s not concerned about Baker exercising his purchase option once the building is spruced up with the TVA money.
“There are no plans in the future that I know of for him to buy it,” Mason said.
The Harriman City Council voted to approve the lease on June 6, 2006.
The lease was prepared by Harriman attorney Bill Newcomb. The cost of the purchase option fluctuates, but at no time can it go over $100,000.
“Under no circumstances and regardless of the date this option is exercised, is the price to exercise this option to exceed the sum of $100,000,” the lease states. “This option may be exercised at any time during the term of this lease or during the 20-year period following the death of Gary Baker.”
Newcomb was out of state visiting family this week and said he didn’t want to comment on the lease from afar.
“I’d want to look at it first,” Newcomb said.
The cost for Baker to lease the building is $1 per year. That amount increases to $2 during the second 20 years of the lease.
Baker said “never” when asked if he planned to exercise the purchase option in the lease.
“The purpose of that is to ensure that the building is always there for the community,” he said.
Baker, Mason and Newcomb are all members of the Princess Theater Foundation.
Baker said plans are to eventually turn over control of the building to Roane State Community College.
“It will be subleased to Roane State to be used for arts and education,” Baker said.
Mason said fixing up the old theater is vital to Harriman’s future. He said it will be an educational hub for students.
“As a matter of fact, the money that’s coming from TVA strictly states that the theater can’t be used for anything other than performing arts and education,” Mason said.
Local officials decided that fixing up the Princess Theater was one way for TVA to make amends with Roane County over the fly ash catastrophe. A dike failure at the agency’s Kingston Fossil Plant released 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash into the environment.
The Roane County Economic Development Foundation was formed to disburse $43 million in TVA reparations money. The development foundation appropriated $1.7 million for the Princess project.
Not everyone was happy about money being pumped into the old theater.
“I ate breakfast in Harriman one morning with five people,” Roane County road superintendent and former Harriman mayor Tom Hamby said. “I didn’t bring it up, but it was brought up and all five of them said that they don’t need to spend any money on the Princess Theater.”